Crime and Punishment

Lewis Gough - murderer of Mary Curthoys

Lewis Gough 2016-10-25T14:26:36+00:00

On 6th August 1864 Lewis Gough (according to one newspaper he was sometimes called as Daniel Gough) was at Gloucester Assizes charged with murder.  He was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged.  The sentence was carried out in a public execution on 27th August 1864.  Thus, he was one of 120 prisoners hanged in the Gloucester Prison between its opening in 1792 and the last hanging which took place there in 1939.  Lewis was the last to be hanged using the ‘new drop’ style of gallows erected on gatehouse of the prison.  It is interesting to note that there had been no hangings there between 1839 until Lewis’s hanging.

It was reported in the newspapers throughout the country that Lewis who was lame and a stone breaker working on the roads was indicted for the murder of Mary Curthoys, at Rudgeway near Thornbury on the 9th of May.  The deceased was a poor blind woman 50 years of age.  She was the widow of a tailor who had died 12 months before.  She was formerly in the blind asylum at Bristol where she learnt the art of basket making.  She lived in one of three cottages which stood together about a hundred yards from the roadside, and was supported by her calling and by the charity of the gentry in the neighbourhood.  She appears to have formed an unfortunate connection with the prisoner who was an agricultural labourer living in the village.

Some time before the murder Lewis suggested that he should come and live with her.  She, fearing, that in such a case, all her friends might discontinue their charity, refused the proposal.  This, and her attachment to another man, seems to have bred a feeling of animosity in the breast of Lewis, and hence the crime.  It was shown that he threatened to ‘do’ for himself and his victim.  She was seen with him several times on Monday the 9th of May.  Nothing was heard during the night, but on going out at a quarter to six the next morning the occupant of the third cottage was horrified to see the blind basket woman lying dead near the wicket gate of her little garden, with her head nearly severed, from her body, and with the lock of the gate in her hand.  In the garden were found a stone hammer, a knobbed stick, a razor and case, and from a bruise on the side of the poor woman’s nose it was concluded that she was first knocked down with one of the heavy weapons, and that then her murderer knelt upon her and finished his work with a razor.  The articles in the garden were recognised as belonging to Gough; and this fact taken in conjunction with his previous threats, caused suspicion to fall upon him.

He was sought, but he had disappeared.  There seems to have been some dispute about who apprehended the perpetrator.  PC Frederick Bryan of Berkeley was  given credit for the arrest in one newspaper.  Another reported “His apprehension is unquestionably to be attributed to the alacrity and tact displayed by Superintendent Rawle a valuable officer of the Gloucestershire constabulary”.  One PC Briers appears to have laid claim to the arrest but three letters to the Bristol Mercury of May 28th 1864 contradicted this assertion and Mr Hooper and Mr Charles Phelps were commended for their promptness and they were thanked for their help.

The police traced him from place to place, and he was finally apprehended in the Bell Inn, a beerhouse in Cambridge, Gloucestershire some distance from the scene of the crime.  When seized he he exclaimed “I am sorry for doing it and I hope the Lord will have mercy on my soul, and hers too”.  Subsequently he made a statement to the following effect:  “It was Major Peach’s keeper’s fault.  I have frequently seen him in the house.  I went there on Monday afternoon and told her about the keeper, and she said ‘If you are not off, I will put this knife through you!’ and I quietly left the garden.  I loved her as I loved my life, and I am sorry for it, but I hope the Lord will receive her soul and mine“.

On the night of the murder he went to the Royal Oak, a public house in Rudgeway and afterwards to his lodgings, but did not go to bed.  The evidence showed that he had confessed his guilt in the plainest terms while confined in the police cells at Thornbury.  On the 14th May he appeared before the Magistrates at Thornbury.  It was market day.   The trap in which he was conveyed was followed by an immense crowd who gathered around the police station.  The Magistrates committed him to Gloucester Gaol to await his trial.  Mr Sawyer in an able defence sought to throw discredit upon the evidence of the policeman who spoke to the confessions, and also suggested that the prisoner was tainted by family insanity.  The jury, with scarcely any hesitation, found the prisoner guilty, and sentence of death was passed in the usual form.  The prisoner was said to be a tall, hale old man and it was said that although he wept during the address of his counsel, he seemed to be little moved by his sentence.  This description quoted in one newspaper is in contrast to other newspapers that described him “his tall gaunt appearance was particularly striking- his whole attire was dirty patched and ragged.  His hair and whiskers are quite gray and we should think that he is quite 60 years of age.”  Lewis said that he should very much like to have his portrait taken and Mr Butler a photographic artist of Thornbury was called in.  Several copies were taken to send to his relations.

The newspaper reported that Lewis’s ‘conduct after his condemnation was very stoical.  He ate and drank with apparent appetite and actually increased in flesh.  Although he had not been to church more than three times in his life and had spent his Sundays in drunkenness and idleness, since his imprisonment he had learnt to read and was now studying the Bible.  He never avoided the subject of the crime for which he had been condemned and admitted the justice of the sentence.

The authorities kept the arrangements for the execution secret.  The Magistrates had wanted to change the date to a different date to avoid it coinciding with market day when large crowd could be expected in the town, but the Secretary of State had not agreed to the change.  The secrecy and strength of feeling about the execution of the murderer seems to have had unfortunate consequences for a man who was mistaken for the executioner, William Calcraft, and chased by a mob through the streets.

It took place therefore at the unusually early hour of seven o’clock to avoid having a large crowd of spectators.  However, several newspapers reported that there were upwards of 10,000 at the hanging.  Presumably the fact that this was the first hanging in Gloucester since 1839 created added interest.

Lewis rose at 5.30am and dressed himself and afterwards ate a good breakfast of bread, cheese and coffee.  He was able to walk to the scaffold with a firm step and expressed his full contrition for his offence.

Calcroft left Lewis’s body hanging for about an hour and when he cut the body down he was heckled by some of the spectators who had remained.  Calcraft bowed and wished them ‘Good Morning’.  Lewis was buried at the back of the Debtors’ Prison.

Family background – according to family trees on the Ancestry website, Lewis was born 17th July 1808 the son of James  Gough and his wife Hannah (nee Bell).  According to the 1851 census he was born in Tortworth, but the 1861 census shows he was born in Alveston.

Lewis never married.  In the 1841 census he was living in Tockington with his brother, Joseph and his family.  The 1851 census shows Lewis still living with Joseph and his family, now residing in Rudgeway.  Both Joseph and Lewis were labourers. The 1861 census shows that Lewis and Joseph’s children were living in the same house as Mary Curthoys and her husband, Charles, who was a tailor aged 66 born in Aust.  Joseph was in the Bristol Royal Infirmary at the time of the census.

The South Gloucestershire Burial Index website shows Charles died aged 70 and was buried on 14th June 1863.  His abode was Rudgeway.  Mary died aged 50 and was buried on 15th May 1864.  Her abode was said to be Olveston.

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